TM: What changes in the ebook industry would inspire you to stop participating in ebook file sharing?
TRC: This is a tough question. I guess if every book was available in electronic format with no DRM for reasonable prices ($10 max for new/bestseller/omnibus, scaling downwards for popularity and value) it just wouldn’t be worth the time, effort, and risk to find, download, convert and load the book when the same thing could be accomplished with a single click on your Kindle. Even in this situation, I would probably still grab a book if I stumbled across the file and thought it might interest me – or if I wanted to check it out before buying a paper copy.
Then we have a commentary on the Macmillan/Amazon debacle by Cory Doctorow posted on January 29, 2010 in response to the NYT article.
If true, Macmillan demanding a $15 pricetag for its ebooks is just plain farcical. Although there are sunk costs in book production, including the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers, the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero. And audiences have noticed this. $15 is comparable to the discounted price for a new hardcover in a chain bookstore, and it costs more than zero to sell that book. Demanding parity pricing suggests that paper, logistics, warehousing, printing, returns and inventory control cost nothing. This is untrue on its face, and readers are aware of this fact.
Now one might, on the surface, think that these two articles are unrelated, but in the book industry, they are related. Readers are well aware that it costs more to make a physical book than it does an ebook. And with the reduction of cost by the elimination of printers, delivery systems, warehousing, and the cost to deal with the pulping of remainder books the consumer, and with good right, would assume that that cost savings would be passed along to them via a reduced retail price. It makes sense. I am not getting a physical book, so why should I pay for one???? Why on earth can’t traditional publishers understand this and let go of their old-fashioned economic business practices? $15 dollars is too much to pay for an ebook. It’s as simple as that, and sticking fast to this outdated pricing structure only perpetuates piracy. Not to mention, I would be willing to read a lot more books and a lot more books by unknown authors if the price was reasonable. I am certain that I am not alone in my logic here. As for holding back on ebook releases, well, that too is absurd. I'll friggin wait you morons, while I watch you shoot yourself in the foot. And don't get me started on DRM. DRM is another manipulative tactic to strong arm the consumer, and again, another tactic that makes piracy seem like an economical choice, which is why Amazon’s decision to allow Kindle publishers to choose whether or not they want DRM was tactical brilliance on their part. I opted out of the DRM as soon as they made it available.
Now I am not trying to diminish the labor and talent it takes to create a book. I am an Indie author, so I know what things cost: ISBNs, editorial services, software, distribution costs, etc., and I am also a literary appreciator to the magnitude of thousands of dollars a year. Authors deserve to get paid, as do all artists. Publishers, editors, and everyone else along the way also deserve to get paid, but you cannot use the same cost to profit ratio and rational for digital content. They are different, and so the retail pricing structure has to be different. It’s not about the value of the thing in an abstract sense. Putting a price on art is difficult at best, but putting a price on a commodity that has quantifiable costs related to it is a much easier calculation to make. If Stephen King were to sell a million ebooks at an appropriate adjusted retail price, then everyone would make the same as if he had sold a million physical books. And in actuality, there would be less waste and more readers. The adjusted retail price would attract more readers and the paradigm would shift. More readers means more books sold, less piracy, and more profit. Reduced retail price does not = less profit. Not when in comes to digital content. Even I, of the economically challenged, can make sense out this. As for Macmillan, I guess they haven’t realized that they are not strong-arming Amazon, they are strong-arming the consumer, and we won’t stand for it. They can charge $15 bucks for an ebook, but I certainly ain’t gonna buy one, especially if it’s DRMed and I don’t technically own it.
That, my friends = less profit. Less readers for the author and less profit for all. Seems like Amazon understands this as it states in their recent letter:
"We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it's reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don't believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative."
So hoorah for Amazon! They may have had to concede here, but their self-serving principles, despite their big-brother tactics, are in line with the consumer. As a shop owner, if Amazon feels they cannot sell a product because it's priced too high, they have the right not to stock it as far as bandwidth space is concerned. Sure Macmillan can charge whatever they want, it is their product, but as far as this consumer goes, they can take their $15.00 per ebook pricing structure and shove it where the sun don’t shine. The readers have the final say.